I read a lot of romance but like very few. Most are a forgettable trifle but when you find a truly great romance it’s like a great bottle of wine, a rich experience you remember fondly. The truly exceptional romance stories generally have all of the following:
- Memorable, finely-drawn protagonists
- Great plot & character arc
A strong romance has 2 while the vast majority have 1 or .5.
Kulti has 1.5. However it nailed those so strongly that it comes this close to being a great romance.
Sal Casillas is a professional women’s soccer player who is driven, disciplined, kind, and sassy. She is strong, confident, and happy in her own skin. She’s the kind of person you want your kids to grow up to be.
Reiner Kulti is a retired star soccer player who is brought on as an assistant coach. And he’s faaaabulous. He’s a strong but silent German who makes gives-no-fucks an art form. He dwells in silence, magnificently.
He was staring at me directly, one hundred percent intense and focused on my face. Those warm-colored eyes were zeroed in on me like I was the first person he’d seen in ages…and wasn’t really sure what to think.
He’s a delicious arrogant bastard who answers questions with silence or, on occasion, a single word and that’s fine because he’s Kulti fuck you very much.
He’s original and fascinating, not easily falling into the protector or reformed rake tropes, but standing proudly alone. Silently, with faint derision in his eyes.
And he and Sal have good smolder. Although it’s more like repressed longing masquerading as friendship. But whatever it is, it works.
But the book is not perfect, and the flaws wear away at the shiny.
Some of the things have already been covered by Emmalita. This book is easily 20% too long and a good editor could have cut huge swaths of the story, especially at the beginning. The slow burn didn’t need to be quite so glacial. The first Similarly a good editor would have reduced the repetitive use of common phrases like “big girl socks.”
Also there is enough slut-shaming to give me an eye-twitch. Having played recreational women’s soccer until just a few years ago, I can say that no teammate ever called me “slut”, that is not a thing sporty women say to each other. And there is a strong slut-shamey vibe. Sal has had one boyfriend (and we assume sex partner) ever and it’s clear that she’s a good girl who doesn’t just “sleep around.” Terms like slut/whore are used unnecessarily.
And while The German is indeed a fantastic character, he’s rendered slightly pathetic. He has no friends, hobbies, family, or interests. He’s a terrible coach. He starts hanging out with Sal, seemingly, out of desperation and loneliness. After scant handful of outings he tells Sal she’s his best friend. We’ve all had points in life where we’re a bit adrift, but Kulti’s life is so empty that it feels sad. Nobody wants to feel pity for the romantic lead.
The right editor could polish this story right up into a 5-star romance. As is, it’s a 3-star, and that’s mostly due to The German’s fabulous silent stares.
In unrelated news, you could spend a lot of time googling pictures of hot soccer players. Of course I’m not saying that I did so, just that as a hypothetical, there is a lot of material to sort through.